The Eagles have played 6 playoff games since drafting Carson Wentz. Wentz has thrown 4 playoff passes in his career.
Backup QB was the Eagles’ biggest need coming into the draft. The most common reaction to the Eagles’ selection of Jalen Hurts was that it was a “wasted” pick, that the Eagles had too many “needs”. After addressing LB in the 3rd, it’s hard to find another starting spot open anywhere else on the roster. And when it comes to backups, no backup is more important than the backup QB.
The Eagles can win 4 straight games with no WRs when they need to, as they did at the end of 2019.
The Eagles can win 4 straight games with seemingly their entire defensive backfield in the blue tent, as they did at the end of 2018 and the 2018 playoffs.
You Cannot Win Without a Quarterback
Ask the 2019 Steelers, 2019 Lions, or 2019 Panthers if they wish they had been a little more diligent about having a quality backup quarterback.
Ask the 2019 Eagles, who were forced to put in 40-year-old high school football coach Josh McCown when Wentz went down at the worst possible time.
This is not something that can just be hand-waved away. Wentz has been injured three straight seasons. It does not matter whether it was his “fault” or whether Clowney’s hit was dirty. Past injuries predict future injuries, and the best predictor of future concussions is past concussions. The Eagles must proceed forward under the assumption that Wentz is always a play away from disaster until he proves he can make it from start to finish.
The Eagles did not “need” a wide receiver. Maybe a wideout “unlocks” Wentz, but he won 4 straight games basically throwing to a bunch of tight ends and running backs. The Eagles did not “need” a safety – they have 3 decent safeties and there’s plenty of talent still in free agency. The Eagles have needed linebackers for years, but obviously they disagree on that. Beyond that, it’s hard to even find another glaring hole on the roster. They need some other backups, but not any backups that are more important than the backup quarterback.
The Value of Pick 53
The most common criticism of the pick has been that “it was a waste of a second round pick” because the Eagles had “more pressing needs”.
Not all second round picks are equal. NFL fans understand that the 1st pick in the draft is worth more than the 32nd even though both are “first round picks”. It is no different in the second round. The overall hit rate for finding a starter in the 2nd round is 25-30%, but it’s not flat. In the late 2nd, it’s closer to 15%.
Pick 53 is not valuable.
The NFL does an incredible job marketing the draft as the way to turn a franchise around. But, the fact is most non-special teams Pro-Bowlers are first rounders and most starters are drafted in the top 40-45 picks. There is simply no reason to believe the Eagles were going to find an impact player at any position at pick 53. You can question whether they should have traded it to move up to get Lamb. There’s no evidence that trade was actually on the table in either direction. It’s speculative. But to argue that the Eagles passed on an impact player to take a backup is simply massively overvaluing what pick 53 is.
There is not a single position other than LB where a player taken at 53 would have been expected to come in and start this year. Further, the Eagles do not value LB (they did, however, take one in the third round). It’s a question of what position was getting a backup. And, again, no position is more valuable than quarterback.
Using pick 53 on a backup QB wasn’t a “waste”. It was getting good value from a mediocre pick.
But is Hurts Good?
In ranking the QBs, I assigned an ‘early Day 3’ grade to Hurts. As we saw in the draft, teams place high value on running ability and avoiding quarterbacks who are slower of foot. If you believe in a QB, you make sure you don’t miss on him, which makes assigning a draft round difficult. Hurts was the last talented dual-threat QB available. The Eagles made sure they didn’t miss on him. Was it a reach? Time will tell.
In that ranking, I did not provide much of a scouting report. What can Eagles fans expect from Hurts? Is Hurts a good fit for the Eagles?
What Hurts Does Well
Jalen Hurts is an incredibly smart player. Off the field, he graduated college in 3 years and spent this season working on a Master’s degree. His intelligence leaks onto the field. Hurts, at his best, is a game manager. Jalen runs the offense as intended, getting the ball out quickly to playmakers when they’re open and going through progressions to the open man when they’re not. He doesn’t hesitate to use his legs when pass-rushers get too aggressive and lose their lanes. Hurts is decisive, very rarely leaving plays on the field while trying to figure out what to do.
The Heisman runner-up is a threat to run on every play. Designed runs, options, read options, running past over-eager rushers, escaping the pocket–if a defense was not disciplined, Hurts was picking up yards with his legs. He does a good job making the first man miss, and, while he’s not as dynamic as Lamar Jackson, he has much more bulk to him and can lower his head and pick up a few extra yards when needed to get a first down.
As a thrower, Hurts is accurate both in and out of the pocket, on the run and set. The Sooner is good at both zip throws and touch throws. He completed 70% of his passes with 40 TD and only 10 INT over his last two college seasons. He rarely took risks, staying within the offense to keep the chains moving.
What Hurts Struggles With
Jalen Hurts’ arm strength is either bare minimum NFL-quality or not quite there. If he had just a little more zip, he would’ve been a consensus first round pick, as he is better than Jordan Love in every other facet of the game. But, arm strength typically does not get considerably better. That is the biggest question when it comes to Hurts. If he can add just a little more juice, the pieces will all come together. Without that, the picture gets a lot murkier.
Because of the lack of zip, when receivers aren’t getting open, he simply doesn’t have the ability to fit the ball in tight windows or throw receivers open. He will be relegated to a scheme QB, relying on easy throws created by the coach to move the ball. This became a big issue against better competition.
Hurts, on rare occasions, makes some truly terrible decisions. He has an incredible ability to extend plays, but sometimes, as plays break down further and further, he throws balls that just should not be thrown. It’s something that can be cleaned up with coaching, but worth noting.
As a runner, Hurts has functional speed at 4.59, but he’s not going to outrun defensive backs or many linebackers. He will make teams pay if they stop paying attention to him, but he will not break a proper contain.
How He Fits On The Eagles
Jalen Hurts cannot run the same system as Carson Wentz. At this point in their careers, they are as opposite as quarterbacks can get. For most teams, that would be a problem. For the Eagles? We know they can change systems in a heartbeat, and they already have the perfect system for Jalen Hurts.
When Wentz got injured in 2017, Foles came in and struggled. Then they implemented more Run-Pass Options and Mesh-Sit-Wheel, and Foles went from down-on-his-luck backup to legend. That offense, the Foles offense, is even better built for Jalen Hurts, who can add a read keep to the RPO while executing an offensive play that is designed to always create an open man and an easy throw. Using short quick throws and his legs, Hurts can slowly but inexorably move the team downfield.
I don’t expect Hurts to replace Wentz. If he does, it will say far more about Wentz than Hurts. But Hurts provides a security blanket, not for Wentz, but for the rest of the roster. If Wentz goes down again, they have somebody waiting in the wings ready to step up. This was a good draft pick, whether it works out or not – and whether the fans approve or not. It is not Howie Roseman’s job to satiate the fans. It’s his job to build a winning football team. That’s what he did Friday night.